"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
November 21, 2013
New Grandma, New Baby
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

My son and his wife just had their first baby. It is my first grandchild. We are all thrilled.

The new parents have invited me to come and visit them and the baby. My own mother-in-law never visited me when I had my babies, so I’m wading into unfamiliar territory.

Do you have any advice for me?

Answer:

It is considerate of your son and his wife to invite you to visit. It can be tricky for a mother-in-law to get involved when a new baby is born, especially if she lives far away. Often, she wants to offer to help, and she really wants to visit the baby, but she also doesn’t want to intrude or impose.

Your son and daughter-in-law have thoughtfully preempted this awkwardness by simply inviting you to visit.

I recommend that you plan your visit around two goals. First, to build a good relationship with your daughter-in-law. Second, to be invited back for another visit.

With those goals in mind, and from my perspective as (fortunate) daughter-in-law, here are four general things to do during your visit.

First, be a good guest. Clean up after yourself. Treat their things nicely. Don’t rearrange the furniture. Be complimentary and positive. If you don’t care for where they live, what they eat, how they dress the baby, their housekeeping, their driving, or their TV habits, keep it to yourself.

Follow their house rules. Your son is an adult now. He and his wife are trying to establish their own family and their own home, and it will probably be different from yours. Do they watch daytime TV? Do they eat in the living room? Do they do laundry on Sunday? Do they double lock the door every time they go out?

Even if you think their rules are silly, remember that you are a guest in their home. Be sure to show respect for their way of doing things.

Give them some privacy. Turn in at a reasonable hour, head out for a walk, or do the grocery shopping as a way of giving your daughter-in-law some alone time. Even if you get along unusually well, it can be difficult to have another person in your house every hour of the day.

If your daughter-in-law is nursing the baby, be sensitive to her sense of modesty, which might be different from yours. Some mothers feel comfortable nursing in front of other people. Other mothers do not, especially when nursing is new to them.

Second, be helpful. You could cook, clean, shop, do the laundry, diaper the baby, change the beds, or mow the lawn. But exactly how and how much you help will depend on what your daughter-in-law is comfortable with, and what her needs are.

You are there to lighten her load. If that means helping with the housework, you should help. But if your help is stressful to her, you should back off and find some other way to be supportive.

Be observant of the way she does things, and try to follow her lead. You are not there to instruct. You are there to support. Offer to do things her way. “I would be happy to make dinner tonight,” you might say. “What would you like to eat? Is there a recipe I could make for you?”

Or, “Can I do some laundry for you? How do you usually sort it?” Also, be sensitive to your son’s contributions. He will probably not want you to assume that he is unable or unwilling to help around the house.

As a corollary, if you do a task and she either corrects your method or re-does it her way, try not to be offended. Having a baby can be stressful, and if she is particular about things, the added stress of differently done household tasks might just be too much for her right now.

Third, be unobtrusive. I can guarantee that your son and daughter-in-law did not invite you to visit them because they wanted you to instruct them in the correct methods of child-rearing, housekeeping, career development, or personal appearance. They wanted you to visit so you could see the baby, and perhaps to help around the house.

So, do not give your daughter-in-law instruction or advice unless she asks for it. Remember that she is not your daughter. (Not to say that daughters like unsolicited advice, either.) She is not accustomed to taking direction from you, and almost certainly does not wish to start. You don’t want her to feel obligated to do things your way in order to keep the peace.

Don’t buy or bring blessing clothes for the baby unless she asks you to. As much as you might want her to use your son’s blessing clothes for the baby, it is her decision. You can offer them to her, but be very clear that she is not obligated to use them.

Similarly, don’t buy anything big for the baby until you find out what your daughter-in-law wants or needs.

Fourth, be gentle. Some women glide into birth and motherhood with happiness and grace. Others stumble. Others crash. The lack of sleep, body changes, financial pressures, and other adjustments that come with a new baby can be overwhelming, even to the point of trauma for some women.

Your job as the grandma is to be supportive, helpful, sympathetic, and kind. You are not there to tell her to buck up, to compare her to other stellar mothers you know, or to tell her horror stories about babies in peril. You are there to tell her what a beautiful job she is doing in her beautiful home with her beautiful new baby.

Finally, if any of this advice does not jibe with what you know about your daughter-in-law, disregard it and go with what you know about her. Your goal with this visit is to strengthen your relationship with her, and to think first of her and the baby. A strong relationship with her will be a tremendous blessing to you, to her, and to your son.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!


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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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